2011-10-20 THOUGHTS ON DANCE
LEMI PONIFASIO “MAU: DANCE WITH SKYMIRRORS”
Not perfect, this; not refined or well–edited … but no matter, I won’t fall prey, this night, to perfectionism, I want to get this out there.
Have always felt, for years now, that musicians are also dancers, or ought to be; just that the movement is sometimes so inside, so subtle … but as Lettvin said, the grace notes are the flick of the fingers, the subtle movement of the eyes … we are ALL dancers, we humans.
SO HERE IT IS …
How it begins: man rear stage L … or is it a man? I have the impression that he has the head of a beast, a lion or a bear, magnificently hirsute. All we really see is the beautifully-muscled torso, and the hands –which seem immense—placed on the fronts of his thighs. He scarcely moves. Just breathing, in and out.
Then the woman –front stage R—almost entirely naked, very pale body, high-heeled shoes, completely and pitilessly lit, a brusque contrast to the man’s mystery.
Her song, not lamenting or nostalgic or conventionally beautiful: no, it is a war-dance song. At the end --a jump-out-of-your-seat shock to many-- a raucous scream that sounds like the shriek of a bird of prey.
The geometry of the stage. All square but often asymmetrical. Never a circle.
The geometry of the space they define. At a certain point about halfway through I notice that not once have the arms been lifted above shoulder level. No lifting-up of torsos, no reaching to heaven. Someone says afterwards when we are talking about this, “Like birds”. But later still, I realise that’s not true: some birds at least –like raptors—DO lift their wings enormously as they plunge.
Somewhere about halfway through –and I continued to observe this as I assimilated and the piece progressed—I realized that no one ever touches anyone else, there is ZERO physical contact between or among the dancers.
Their own bodies, as the piece progresses, become percussion instruments. This is beautifully set up from the beginning with tiny hints of what is to come …
That rapid gliding through space. Feet so soundlessly GLIDING across the stage. Once you look carefully you realize it is the feet, but even so it looks like something a human could not do.
It all challenged me to think about my ideas of Dance.
At some climactic point about 2/3 of the way through, the image projected on the backlit screen behind the dancers, is of a bird half-drowned in oil, struggling to lift its wings and escape from the filth in which it’s mired. Repeatedly projected. The dance going on in front of this horrific image just goes on.
The music, at this point, intentionally and almost unbearably brutal, repetitive, violent. I say intentionally because it MUST be: the music before is so well done as a backdrop, an accompaniment to the other sound events and to the dance, and sometimes it takes more of a protagonist’s role.
It is after this, I think, that there’s a sequence with the six men, in which they all end up stage front, bent over on their knees (like yoga child’s pose), with arms bound behind them. Well, but they are NOT bound, they are only holding their hands together. But nevertheless they writhe and struggle as tho’ they were bound. Beautiful, beautiful back muscles, deltoids, biceps.
Is part of the idea that we SEE that they’re not really bound, that all they have to do is loose their own hands (bonds) and they will be free? An incredible tension generated by this feeling.
Anyway, they all draw back to the rear, disappearing into the shadows, still struggling on their knees. All except one, who manages to rise to his feet, hands still (self-)bound behind him, and stays stage front for a while, gradually drawing back. Still on his feet, I praying from guts and heart for his liberation, he arches his back –finally we see the torso fully open … but then after a very long time, what seems like an eternity, he too draws back into the shadows, vanquished.
So much. I tried to remember everything, EVERYTHING so as to tell my very dear friend M*** the Dancer, with whom I have a Special Bond About Dance. I’m not telling everything here because it’s late and it would take so much time. Every time I think about it I remember more, altho’ not always in the correct sequence.
I think at first I was dismayed because there seemed to be no opening up of the body, no leaps, that striving toward the heavens that I so love and which seems to me one of the particular gifts to us of dance, it was always the closest we could get to flying. The dream, and the doom, of Icarus: to defy gravity. But now, just as I am writing this, I realize that it’s that GLIDING across the floor that’s the defiance of gravity in this dance.
That rapid fluttering of the fingers, that we see almost from the beginning. I find out in the after-conversation, from Australian friends who know about such things, that this is an element in hakka (sp., correct I think, check it out on Google) a war-dance of the Maori. I knew something about hakka but no details. Fascinating. Is it modelled on birds and their movements, I wonder? Didn’t occur to me to ask them in the moment.
After that climactic and awful half-drowned bird moment (that goes on forever), a bird-man appears on stage, in the same place as the beast-man at the beginning: with the head of (I think) an albatross or frigate-bird. Extensively tattooed all around the waist. We’ve seen him before as one of the six male dancers, I remember the tattoos peeking out from his trousers or whatever. Now he is naked, except for the gigantic bird’s head, and a sort of codpiece affair which is half prick and half tail, because it extends to his knees and curls around looking almost, at that point, like a ram’s horn. Nothing even remotely sensual about it. He looks hieratic, and at the same time oddly innocent. His movements are not hieratic: when he turns slowly this way and that it is only the torso, and not completely somehow; I think that is where the innocence part comes in for me.
When he starts to move directionally, still to the rear and towards stage right, it is with the gait of a bird, or rather with the gait of a man become half-bird, the legs look unnaturally long, the relation of the thorax to the waist which is no longer exactly a waist … eery, terribly sad, because he walks off and we know he is gone forever, like the bird struggling to fly out of the oil. Maybe this is the human memory and incarnation of that bird. How we preserve it, keep it sacred.
So this piece, evoking the relationship of human with animal and bird in its most profound way, that is in how we as humans have sought to put ourselves INTO THEIR BODIES, their fur, their feathers; run with their joyful legs and soar with their tireless wings … says an awful –awe-full— lot about that magical relationship in all its mystery, without in any way trying to explain it, which would of course be fatal.
It was so dense, so complex. The impact took a while to take effect. I just wanted to be quiet and alone afterwards but then there is the talking which is also interesting. It wasn’t until I gave a goodnight hug and kiss to L***’s assistant Juan that I practically collapsed into his arms and burst into tears. Almost.
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